Media Mix, Sept. 13, 2020

Honda e

Here’s this week’s Media Mix column, which is about Japan’s response to the Green Recovery movement. As pointed out near the end, the Japanese media will cover environmental issues but rarely links that coverage to Japanese business practices since anything that’s perceived as being bad for business is also seen as being bad for media companies. The automobile industry is one of the biggest advertisers in Japan in terms of money spent, which explains why the Honda e’s rollout was covered so breathlessly in the press despite the fact that the car maker doesn’t expect to sell many in Japan. Essentially, this coverage has two purposes: it gives Honda free brand publicity, and it sends a message to the world that the company is working, however grudgingly, on cars that are less polluting. This latter point is important, especially right now. A recent climate study found that SUVs are the second biggest contributor of emissions in the world, after power plants. Sales of SUVs are driven by cheaper gasoline prices, and despite their obvious unsuitability to driving conditions in Japan, where roads are narrower and traffic more congested, they are very popular here as well. However, so are mini-cars (kei jidosha), whose appeal is that they are smaller and use less fuel. Obviously, there is no real coherent logic to car purchases in Japan, and car makers sell whatever they think they can get away with. SUVs have higher profit margins than do mini-cars, and as long as gasoline is not too expensive, there’s no reason to try to steer people toward electric vehicles. And while the press does report that Japanese people aren’t fond of EVs, they never really try to figure out why, thus making it seem to be merely a matter of taste.

In a sense, this is strange, since Japanese car makers are intent on overseas markets where governments are implementing regulations (not just incentives) that discourage the use of fossil fuels. As pointed out in the column, the Honda e is really being made for Europe, as was the world’s first mass produced EV, the Nissan Leaf. Mazda will soon start selling an electric vehicle in the EU (in Japan it will only be available as a lease), and even Toyota, which has so far eschewed electric cars in favor of developing hydrogen cars as its environmentally friendly option, will market an EV, but only for two people. None of these cars will target Japanese consumers in any significant way, which could be construed as just common business sense. But then you look at South Korea, where Hyundai and Kia are aggressively developing EVs for both overseas and their own market with the express idea of appealing to the public’s desire to be more proactive about environmental concerns. Yonhap News reports that Hyundai is planning to invest a huge amount of money in EV development over the next 5 years, while Toyota, which still doesn’t have a solid state battery of its own, looks upon EVs as a kind of nuisance, the same way a white-shoe law firm would look upon its requirement to provide a minimum of pro bono representation.

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